BEIJING Chinese state media on Friday broadly welcomed U.S. President Donald Trump's letter to Chinese President Xi Jinping belatedly wishing a happy Lunar New Year, saying it was a positive sign and that "good food is worth waiting for".
In a brief statement, the White House said that Trump told Xi he looked forward to working with him to develop relations, though the pair haven't spoken directly since Trump took office last month.
"The letter conveys the reassuring message that bilateral relations are still on the right track despite the speculation that has arisen with Trump's victory in the November election," the official China Daily said in an editorial.
Trump upset China in December by taking a phone call from Taiwan President Tsai Ing-wen. China considers Taiwan a wayward province with no right to formal diplomatic relations with any other country.
In his Senate confirmation hearing, U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said China should not be allowed access to islands it has built in the disputed South China Sea. The White House also vowed to defend "international territories" in the strategic waterway.
"Against this backdrop, the letter, though terse and issued nearly three weeks after Trump's inauguration, is still a positive signal, as it suggests that reason still prevails in the White House," the China Daily added.
Even the normally hawkish tabloid the Global Times, published by the ruling Communist Party's official People's Daily and which had railed against Trump, struck an upbeat tone.
"Over the past few weeks, more positive signs have emerged between China and the U.S., making people re-evaluate the trajectory of the bilateral relationship under Trump," it said in an editorial.
Chinese officials have downplayed the significance of Trump breaking with recent precedent and not sending greetings for the Lunar New Year, which began late last month, though state media was pleased his daughter Ivanka Trump went to a Lunar New Year reception at the Chinese embassy in Washington.
Diplomatic sources say China has also not been in a rush to have a telephone call with the unpredictable Trump, in case the call went badly, embarrassing Xi.
In a front page commentary, the overseas edition of the People's Daily said the letter was an opening to help manage friction.
"There's a saying in China - good food is worth waiting for."
(Reporting by Ben Blanchard; Editing by Michael Perry)